The day after Thanksgiving – Black Friday – has become so much more than the official start to the holiday shopping season. It’s something of a tribal adventure, a challenge to see who can rise the earliest and withstand the highest degree of actual physical pain in search of an unbeatable bona fide bargain. While most of the action has traditionally taken place at department stores and electronics dealers, the high holy day of shopping has also become a major event at new-car showrooms. According to TrueCar, Inc., Black Friday and the Thanksgiving weekend are among the top five or six days of the year in which to leverage the deepest new-car discounts (with New Year’s Eve remaining the best day of the year in which to buy a car.)
Most brands are launching their “season of savings” promotions this week (get used to seeing those inferiority complex-inducing commercials with cars wrapped in giant ribbons for the next several weeks) while others are going all in with generous sales incentives especially targeted for Black Friday and the rest of the Thanksgiving weekend. Early holiday campaigns are expected to help November new-car sales outpace last year’s figures for the same period by 1.6 percent according to Edmunds.com.
“Car sales will remain elevated in November in large part because of Black Friday,” says Edmunds.com senior analyst Jessica Caldwell. “In recent years both car shoppers and car dealers have turned toward Black Friday as an opportunity to dive into the holiday shopping season. This is a good example of how the auto industry continues to evolve to become more like the rest of the retail market.”
Among the biggest deals of the Thanksgiving weekend can be found at Buick dealers, where the automaker is offering a whopping 20 percent of MSRP cash back on Verano, Regal and LaCrosse sedans as part of their Black Friday Sales Event running through December 1. That would be as much as $8,000 off the top version of the 2015 LaCrosse (not including the dealer’s discount), which would be one of the largest incentives we’ve seen since Mercedes-Benz was offering soon-to-be shuttered Maybach dealers an extra $100,000 per unit to help discount and clear their inventories of unsold uber-luxury sedans.
Of course there is a catch. According to the brand’s consumer website, the 20 percent off promotion only applies to the 20 percent of all Verano, Regal and LaCrosse that have been in stock the longest as of November 21. That almost certainly means most will be 2014 models, which have already accumulated a year’s depreciation without ever having been titled, and at that they’re likely vehicles with odd feature combinations or color combinations that have thus far been hard to sell. Still, that’s some serious money being slapped on the hood to help foster a sale.
Even with the new-car business on a continued upswing, automakers continue to pile on the incentives – including cash rebates and lease/finance deals – to help keep customers coming through dealers’ showroom doors. According to data supplied by TrueCar, Inc., auto manufacturers’ incentive spending averaged $2,660 per vehicle in November, which is down a slight 0.2 percent from a year earlier and a drop of 2.3 percent over October 2014. General Motors is expected to spend the most money on incentives this month at an average $3,304 per vehicle, with runners up Ford and Fiat Chrysler putting up $3,217 and $3,027 per unit, respectively.
What’s more, declining gas prices are beginning to have an effect on new-vehicle supply, demand and deals. Consumers are beginning to take a second look at larger cars and SUVs/crossovers for the first time perhaps since the Great Recession, with interest in the smallest and most fuel-efficient models waning. “Small cars and small SUVs have experienced high demand for the last several years due to elevated gas prices and overall affordability, which made getting great deals on them rare,” says Jesse Toprak, chief analyst for Cars.com. “Since gas prices have started to decline, consumers are now finally able to get significant discounts, as well as great financing and leasing deals, on most small cars and SUVs.”